During the two centuries before 1865, the U.S. South was governed by and for slaveholding planters. Southern law gave these enslavers almost total authority over the lives of enslaved people. The Civil War, however, destroyed the legal institution of slavery and, with it, the legal power of the slaveholder. Southern states faced the question of how to maintain the cotton economy without slavery. Their solution was to transfer the legal power over Black Southerners that had been held by slaveholders to the state.
Civil War Era, for example, analysis of popular literature from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s incendiary Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) to Jefferson Davis’ turgid The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (1881) reveals the conflicting ways Americans recorded their experiences of the secession crisis, war, and the uncertain peace that followed. Moreover, popular literature can also create history, as with Thomas F. Dixon’s novel, The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (1905), which played a central role in shaping post-Civil War culture of the United States.